14 Years Later, State Prison Monitoring in Hawaii to End

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
September 16, 1999 12:00 am

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OAHU, HI — Conditions at Oahu Community Correctional Center have been improved sufficiently to end 14 years of mandated monitoring by national experts, the Honolulu Star Bulletin reported today.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which sued the state over “harmful and intolerable” conditions at the Kalihi facility, has filed a proposal that would end the case. The state Attorney General’s office joined in the proposed order of final dismissal, the Star Bulletin said, which now awaits approval from federal Judge Samuel P. King.

Alvin J. Bronstein, Director Emeritus of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, told the paper that having corrections professionals at the head of the prison system now, which was not the case for most of the past 14 years, “gives us a great deal of encouragement that they will keep things going.”

In ACLU challenges to prison conditions across the country, Bronstein and volunteer attorney Daniel Foley — who served as local counsel in the Hawaii case — reached settlement agreements with 22 states. Both warned in an announcement yesterday that without a long-term plan to manage Hawaii’s prison population growth, the state could revert to the 1984 conditions.

The ACLU originally filed suit in September 1984, citing overcrowding and inadequate safety and programs. In June 1985, state officials entered a consent decree, agreeing to set prison population limits and make sweeping facility and program improvements at OCCC and the Women’s Community Correctional Center. (See a previous ACLU newswire at /news/w050996d.html.)

In July 1997, the women’s facility was dismissed from the decree in part because of the expansion of the 110-bed Kailua facility.

There were 1,436 inmates at OCCC in June 1985 when the settlement was reached. Since that time, the paper said, the Halawa Medium Security Facility was built and the state has sent about 1,200 inmates to Mainland prisons.

Bronstein, who visited OCCC this week, said the head count is now 970. Referring to the drawn- out litigation, he told the paper, “When you’re dealing with a small system like this, it would seem so fixable that it could be done in three or four years. The last comparable case would be Rhode Island, and that took 21 years. In that light, it doesn’t look that bad.”

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